This thought has been bouncing around inside my head for more than a week now. It was first suggested by a post from Jon West. I had commented how enamored I was of the Saint Augustine Widespread Panic show on the 1st. He pointed out that the setlist had more than a few slower tunes, and I have to agree. If I were king, it is not a setlist I would have cobbled together, and yet the performance was superb – by my standards. So how do you weigh the two? I think it would go without saying (except that I’m saying it) that a so-so setlist excellently performed beats a less-than-stellar show that looks great on paper.
Which brings us to Gov’t Mule at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg October 11th. But first, a brief rant:
I HATE JANNUS LIVE! OK, not hate, but it was oversold by at least a few hundred, and that made the experience unpleasant for most SOS & BOS I heard from. If you personally had a good experience (I’m not talking about the music), you were lucky. Oddly, the Pensacola show was apparently not a sell-out (and not close), whereas a very rowdy crowd seemed to materialize in St. Pete. Not everybody, of course, but enough to make things a bit… edgy. Enough of that.
Looking at the setlist (below), it certainly contains gems but does not match up to some that I had seen of late. As if that matters to Warren. He could probably play “Fly Me to the Moon” and send it a lot farther than that. The Mule was ON from note one. The first set gathered steam as they hit “Inside Outside Woman Blues #3” and started to spin with “Don’t Step On the Grass, Sam.” [How many of you were thinking about Farmer right then?] A straightforward treatment of “People Are Strange” found its way to a solo Warren tune, “I’ll Be the One,” featuring a nice “Blue Sky” tease, and that segued into a plodding “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” before closing the sandwich.
Then things got real. “Kind of Bird” was 14-minute ass-kicking, featuring first a subtle “Les Brers in A Minor” hint before shouting it out, with other teases in there (one website suggested “The Wind Cries Mary”). And they stomped the set out with a superb “Slackjaw Jezebel.”
[My ancient Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘serendipity’ as ‘the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.’ I had written the next paragraph when we had to leave to go to dinner with friends. Punching around on the radio, I hit SiriusXM 29 Jam On. The Nugs.net guy is doing ‘the live stash’ from the previous week’s shows. What’s playing? “Kind of Bird.” From the St. Pete show. Teases confirmed! That, ladies and gentlemen, is serendipity!]
I’m old, so for me the benchmark of a power trio (with apologies to Danny Louis, who adds great colors, but Mule is a power trio) is Cream. I can hear every note of the version of “Spoonful” from Wheels of Fire, with Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton wrangling while Ginger Baker powers his way through 16 minutes and 44 seconds of magnificence. Or pick a version of “NSU” or “Sweet Wine” or you name it.
I was fortunate to have seen the Woody Mule twice before his demise, and they certainly hit that benchmark. This edition of the Mule did as well. Matt “F’ing” Abs is always incredible, but for me the man who pushed it over the top was Jorgen Carlsson – my favorite of the 12 times I’ve heard him. He was dueling and battling with Warren on every jam, or so it seemed. Knocked me out.
The second set blasted out for me: I really like “Railroad Boy,” and this was a great version. Further on, Warren and Co. tore up “Thelonius Beck.” The Matt Abs solo drifted into a quivery, spacy intro that everybody recognized as “No Quarter.” It was just amazing. Then a tight “World Boss” gave way to the audio dynamite of “Thorazine Shuffle.” Kick after kick after kick straight to the head! Glorious!
I’m always wary of encores. “Thorazine” was a tough act to follow, and this encore was well played but a tad flat for me: “Lucky” (a Radiohead cover, and a Warren tune, “Done Got Wise.”
But again, setlist aside, the band delivered a strong performance song after song. Danny Louis got nice solo space through the night to paint over the power trio structure.
And Warren is king. You might have missed the coronation, but it’s official.
That made the aftershow proposition interesting. How do you follow a great show by a band at the top of its game?
I was not surprised to discover that Bobby Lee Rodgers had an answer. And not just AN answer – he had THE answer. He and his trio, playing in the Ringside Café around the corner from Jannus Live, threw down the best set I have ever seen from them. BLR was like a machine gun all night, spraying great solos and guitar riffs almost without pause.
BLR plays in lots of different settings and with lots of different people, and with BLR they all sound great, but I am nuts about this trio. Rodrigo Zambrano has been playing bass with Bobby Lee ever since the Wanee festival, and he was simply monstrous this night, a great follow-up to Jorgen Carlsson’s magical Mule kicking. Drummer Tom Damon is in lockstep with Bobby Lee, anticipating everything and driving song after song. I won’t even attempt a setlist, but I’d certainly love to have that show on disk.
Great to see Thor, Wayne and Sharon, Captain Mark and Tip. Sorry once again to have missed my SOS and BOS (I swear I will be visible at Bear Creek!).
[SET 1: Steppin’ Lightly, Any Open Window, Inside Outside Woman Blues #3, Larger Than Life, Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam, People Are Strange, I’ll Be the One (w/ Blue Sky tease) > You Can’t Always Get What You Want > I’ll Be the One, Kind of Bird (w/ Les Brers In A Minor & The Wind Cries Mary teases), Slackjaw Jezebel; SET 2: Railroad Boy, No Need to Suffer, Mr. Big, Thelonius Beck > Drums > No Quarter, World Boss, Thorazine Shuffle (with 2001 tease); E: Lucky, Done Got Wise]